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Pentagon Changes Rules To Allow Guard Troops Serving Along Border To Earn Benefits

Troops set up concertina wire as a Customs and Border Protection agent stands...

Photo by Rodrigo Abd AP

Above: Troops set up concertina wire as a Customs and Border Protection agent stands guard on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, on Thanksgiving Day.

For the first time, National Guard troops serving along the U.S.-Mexico border will earn credit toward GI Bill benefits.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper released a memorandum Dec. 12 saying that National Guard troops, who served along the border, would now earn time toward GI Bill benefits — including the California National Guard.

It’s a major change and it comes after an intense lobbying effort, said Frank Yoakum, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.

“When they’re on active duty the benefits have got to be the same,” Yoakum said.

Reported by Steve Walsh , Video by Roland Lizarondo

The group lobbied Congress and the Department of Defense. Even though the Trump administration authorized sending troops to the border, guard troops were not earning credit toward federal benefits, he said.

“No one is complaining about the duty," Yoakum said. "Nobody is complaining about serving their country. It’s just the fairness of — if we’re going to serve side-by-side with people on active duty — we want the same benefits.”

The change allows guard troops to earn credits toward qualifying for education and other benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. California was one of the states that ultimately pulled troops from the operation. The ruling is retroactive to Feb. 15, the date of the presidential declaration. Approximately 3,400 guard troops have served along the southwest border since the operation began, according to the National Guard Bureau.

Depending on how they are called up, guard troops may not qualify for federal benefits including VA health care or other benefits earned by veterans who were on active duty. U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Diego, chaired a House a veterans subcommittee that recently held a hearing looking at parity issues between guard, reserve and active duty.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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